Tag Archives: Dennis Walcott

De Blasio selects Carmen Farina as next schools chancellor

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo via Twitter / @NYCTransition

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has named Carmen Farina, a veteran employee of the New York City public school system, as the next schools chancellor.

“We need someone who understands that the people who make the schools work and the parents who are the first and last educators of our children, that they must be treated like the stakeholders that they are,” de Blasio said at Monday’s announcement at Brooklyn’s William Alexander Middle School, the school his two children attended.

Calling Farina a “brilliant innovator” who “knows how to bring people together,” he said the selection was important not only because she is going to be the chancellor of the city school’s system, but because “she is also going to be the chancellor for my child,” referring to his son Dante, a  junior at Brooklyn Technical High School.

“This is such a privilege to be able to come back to a system that has so much work that has to done, but to doing it from stance of a progressive agenda,” Farina said.

Farina, 70, has more than four decades of experience working in the city’s school system, serving as a teacher at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, a principal at P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side, and a superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 15. She last worked for the Department of Education as a deputy chancellor before retiring in 2006.

Taking lessons from her own experiences as a student in the city’s school system, Farina promised to make parents real partners in their children’s education and prioritize college and career readiness.

Farina’s name had been floated around for weeks as one of the top contenders for the job, though she was initially hesitant to come out of retirement.

She will replace current Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who is stepping down Tuesday. He has held the position since April 2011.

De Blasio has promised departures from certain education policies of the Bloomberg administration. He proposed to charge rent to charter schools that use space in city school buildings, eliminate letter grades on school progress reports and reduce the focus on high-stake testing

Farina has been a longtime trusted friend and advisor to de Blasio, whom she met while he was a school board member in District 15. She shares his views on testing and will assist in his push for universal pre-k and expansion of after-school programs for middle schoolers.

Among challenges Farina will face as chancellor of the country’s largest public school system is a contract negotiation with the United Federation of Teachers.




BREAKING NEWS: School bus strike officially announced, will begin Wednesday

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

The school-bus strike could begin as early as Wednesday.

UPDATE: Local 1181 representatives announced a strike will begin among school bus drivers on Wednesday, January 16.

A walkout could still be averted if a deal is reached before that time.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School’s Chancellor Dennis Walcott issued a statement regarding the impending school bus strike at a press conference on Monday.

“Should they decide to strike it would necessarily jeopardize the education and safety of more than 150,000 students who take school buses every single day,” said Bloomberg.

According to Bloomberg, the city cannot legally offer what Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union is hoping to obtain – job protection.

Should the strike occur, students in grades kindergarten through six will be issued metro cards with students in kindergarten through second grade eligible for an extra metro card for parents who wish to accompany their children to school. Parents driving their children to school can receive gas reimbursements at 55 cents per mile.

Local 1181 will allegedly issue a statement regarding the strike sometime this afternoon.

Impending school-bus strike could leave students stranded

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

File photo

A city-wide school-bus strike, leaving 152,000 children stranded, is likely to begin on Wednesday.

According to the New York Post, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 has begun printing strike posters, assigning members to picket line locations at various bus yards and handed out a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for conduct during a strike. The strike could be announced as early as today.

Last week, School’s Chancellor Dennis Walcott released a statement, addressing parents concerns about getting their children to school should there be a strike. According to the statement, the Department of Education (DOE) will implement measures including robo-calling affected families and providing MetroCards and reimbursements for those who must drive or use a car service.

Nearly 54,000 of the students left without bus service have disabilities and require special transportation services.

“The union is asking for something we cannot legally deliver and are putting a central and necessary service at risk,” Walcott said. “A strike would be irresponsible and would adversely impact our students and their families who rely on bus service to get to and from school. As the City continues to take all possible precautions in advance of a potential strike, we are asking parents to make a plan in the event that busing is disrupted.”

Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union threatened to strike due to contract bid specifications excluding job guarantees for certain current drivers. According to the DOE, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that such a guarantee, known as the Employee Protection Provision, could not be included under the circumstances of the bids for pre-kindergarten bus contracts last year.

Science extension connects LIC high schools

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan

Two Long Island City schools have great chemistry.

At a Thursday, October 18 ceremony, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott cut the ribbon to open the science-oriented extension connecting Middle College High School and International High School at LaGuardia College in Long Island City.

Joined by Congressmember Carolyn B. Maloney, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, Middle College High School Principal Linda Siegmund and International High School Principal John Starkey, Walcott welcomed students and faculty to the brand new learning wing.

“The addition offers students state-of-the-art science rooms and labs and an art room that will help them hone their skills and develop their interests,” said Chancellor Walcott. “What they learn here will help them be competitive as they prepare for college and careers.”

The two-story, $27.8 million addition boasts dual science labs with a science prep room, 10 new classrooms and an 820-seat demonstration hall. Outfitted with an exterior courtyard and complete wheelchair accessibility, the extension also has an art room, computer lab and administrative offices.

The extension connects both Middle College High School and International High School at LaGuardia College, marking the first time both schools will share a building while remaining separate schools.

According to Nolan, both schools have a long history of helping at-risk students advance their education, and that the institutions are greatly deserving of such an astounding upgrade.

“Middle College High School and The International High School at LaGuardia Community College represents one of the finest academic opportunities that New York City has to offer to its students,” said Nolan.

In a joint statement, the principals from both schools, Starkey and Siegmund, said they are proud to announce the union between their two institutions, which have had a long standing synergy and common bond since beginning to serve the people of Long Island City.

Still time — and space — for Universal Prekindergarten

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Parents looking to enroll their tiny tots in a free education program have until the end of the month to do so.

Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) programs throughout the five boroughs still have several thousand seats left to be filled, according to city leaders.

The program, hosted by a select group of local public schools and community-based organizations, offers at least two-and-a-half hours of educational services at no cost to city kids born in 2008. Eligible early childhood providers have until October 31 to submit applications to the State Education Department.

“It is never too early to think about college and career readiness,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, “and high-quality prekindergarten options set our children on that path.”

According to the city’s Department of Education, third grade students who had attended UPK were 28 percent more likely to score proficiently on the state’s English exam, and 54 percent more likely to make the grade on the state’s math exam, compared to peers who did not attend pre-k.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also touted the program’s success, saying toddlers who receive early education are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to drop out or repeat a grade.

“The most powerful thing we can do, as a city, to show our commitment to our children’s and the city’s future is make sure that every child who is eligible to attend universal pre-kindergarten programs enrolls,” she said.

The Flushing YMCA is among the scores of organizations that still have program vacancies. Officials say there are currently 12 spots open.

To find a UPK program that may still have availability for the 2012-2013 school year, call 3-1-1 or visit schools.nyc.gov/prek.

41 Queens schools could face closure

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

It could be final bell for 217 city schools whose progress reports showed dismal grades.

The progress reports include “A” through “F” grades of 1,193 elementary and middle schools. The schools who scored a “D” or an “F,” or no higher than a “C” for three years, could be on the chopping block, with this year’s citywide number up from last year’s report of 116.

Among those in Queens could be the 31 schools who have scored three consecutive “Cs” or below, nine schools with a “D,” and the one Jamaica school with an “F,” P.S. 140 Edward K. Ellington.

“It’s the staff,” said Nikieva Millian, mother of two students at the elementary school, who shook her head when she heard the grade.

Out of a total score of 100, the school scored a 21 based on the Department of Education (DOE) standards.

According to a DOE statistical breakdown, grades are based on a compilation of student progress, performance and school environment. Progress and performance mainly come from standardized test scores, and English and Math scores at P.S. 140 are down.

“The teacher [my son] had wasn’t teaching him anything. They like to argue with the kids,” said Millian. “Call the parents, don’t argue with students.”

Since 2010, a study indicates that performance at the school, that recently added a pre-kindergarten, has decreased.

Principal David Norment did not return calls or emails for comment.

“The principal doesn’t like to talk to anybody,” said Millian. “If you have a complaint, you have to deal with the people in the office.”

It is not yet confirmed whether P.S. 140, among other schools with bad marks, will indeed face closure. The DOE will be releasing a list of schools on notice within the week, though they did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

This year, school standards have expanded and coursework has become more demanding so as to build a more solid foundation for students who continue to higher education.

“Our elementary and middle schools build on the foundation of early learning to set our students on a path for college and career readiness,” said DOE Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

Elementary and middle school curriculum now has higher standards, including good performance in critical thinking, defending arguments and executing experiments.

In Queens, which is home to school districts 24 through 30, school progress reports overall surpassed those of any other borough. District 26 came out as the highest performing district.

Millian, a concerned parent, does not wish for P.S. 140 to close, but believes there is a need for a more adequate staff.

“They should have more monitors,” she said. “As an adult, you’re supposed to take care of the kids.”

Chancellor Walcott urges parental involvement

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Dennis Walcott will have to rise to many challenges this fall, and he is prepared to do so.

Walcott attended District 29’s Education Town Hall meeting Thursday, September 20, both the district’s and the chancellor’s first town hall meeting of the school year. Walcott took the opportunity to convey his mission and took several questions from concerned parents.

“How do we focus our energy on our students,” asked Walcott, questioning an attentive crowd in the I.S. 238 Susan B. Anthony Academy auditorium.

For the upcoming year, in order to ensure good performance district-wide, Walcott noted a need for heavy parent involvement in their children’s education. New city standards are more demanding than previous years, and in turn, Walcott says that parents should demand more of themselves.

“Tests will be more difficult than ever before,” he said. “All of us should make sure we are collectively working together for our students.”

Walcott, who attended school in District 29 and whose grandson currently does as well, said he has a “special interest” in the area, and wants to make sure students and also teachers are prepared to meet the new standards.

The chancellor also tended to parents and their concerns, which ranged from overcrowding solutions to a need for physical fitness programs.

Bellerose’s P.S./I.S. 208 in particular, according to parents, has a severe overcrowding problem, averaging 38 students per class.

Walcott said that since the school year is still very new, registers determining class sizes will not be complete until later in the season. Once those numbers are received, if there is still a problem, it will be addressed by the DOE.

As a solution to overcrowding, Walcott proposed the creation of new schools. He advocated having the options of charter schools, single sex schools and public schools, believing that students will respond better to a variety of choices.

“Our goal is to create high quality schools. We have a responsibility to serve the students,” said the chancellor.

AT&T and Schools Chancellor present $300,000 grant to Flushing HS

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation

Ninth graders at an embattled Flushing High School have been given a $300,000 leg up.

The Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation (SASF), an after-school program at the struggling school, received the hefty grant from AT&T and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Wednesday, September 19.

With the donated funds, 100 incoming ninth graders will receive one-on-one counseling and college and career readiness this year, officials said. The funding also means a new program coordinator can jump on board.

“It is critical that our students receive support to help prepare them for college and a career,” Walcott said. “I want to thank AT&T and the [SASF] for investing in our students and creating programs that help them succeed. This partnership is an example of how we must continue to work together to close the opportunity gap for our students.”

SASF seeks to increase four-year high school completion and graduation rates, while narrowing the achievement gap, by providing students with access to high quality educational and enrichment services including sports and arts before and after school hours, officials said.

AT&T announced its $250 million financial commitment to nationwide schools for the next five years in March. SASF joins the YMCA of Greater New York to become the second New York City non-profit to be awarded the company’s grant this year.

“This grant provides major academic assistance during the after school hours for the students of Flushing High School,” said SASF President Jim O’Neill.

Flushing High School was slated to close and reopen as a new school after it was one of eight high schools in Queens identified as struggling by the state. It received a “D” on its most recent progress report, with an “F” in student performance, according to the city’s Department of Education, and was part of a federal improvement program because of low test scores and graduation rates.


P.S. 176 in Cambria Heights to expand

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

An overcrowded P.S. 176 is set to receive a much-needed and well-deserved expansion.

The Cambria Heights elementary school is currently at 140 percent capacity, but will receive an extra 370 seats thanks to the expansion, fueled by Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Dennis Walcott and other local officials.

“I like to see growth and things changing,” said the school’s principal of 10 years, Arlene Bartlett. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

This fall, P.S. 176 has about 820 children, averaging 27 students per class. Bartlett believes this may be due to the population boom that Cambria Heights experienced once housing in the area increased.

“Children need more space,” she said.

The engaged principal has been working with Assemblymember Barbara M. Clark and other local officials, advocating this expansion for nearly 15 years. Now, architectural plans are under way so the students can get the space they need.

Set to begin in September 2013, the expansion will involve an addition to the existing building as part of the DOE’s $11.3 billion capital plan. Occupancy is scheduled for 2016.

“This project is the latest investment we are making to our school facilities so that we can accommodate our students and help them succeed,” said Walcott. Since expansion plans are still in the very early stages, it is not yet clear just how much of the capital plan will be needed to fuel construction.

The well regarded school is said to be known for strong parent engagement and academic programming, along with support for English language learners and students with disabilities. P.S. 176 also offers the local district’s gifted and talened program, along with numerous performing arts and music programs.

Now pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, the expansion will allow the school, along with the talented and gifted program, to add a middle school reaching the eighth grade. Theoretically, the extra space will also allow class sizes to shrink.

“An extension for Public School 176 has been a battle I’ve waged for several years. The real benefactors are the teachers and the students,” said Clark.

City kicks off summer youth jobs program at Queens Botanical Garden

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the mayor's office

Out of school and into the work force.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped kick off the first day of the city’s summer youth employment program at the Queens Botanical Gardens, which will have 35 employees working as garden greeters, horticulture aides and aides to the children’s garden.

More than 31,000 city kids are participating in the program. The participants were selected through a lottery system and placed by community‐based organization partners at local nonprofits and businesses.

“With many young people now struggling to find employment, opportunities for summer jobs are very welcome,” Bloomberg said. “These programs help working families, keep kids in school, and help students do better on Regents exams and increases graduation rates. We are grateful to the more than 80 corporate and philanthropic sponsors for their support of our City’s young people this summer.”

Students who work during high school tend to stay in school, graduate at higher rates and are more likely to work after graduation, according to the mayor’s office.  Students’ attendance and likelihood to take the Regents also increases the year following summer employment, according to a recent New York University study.

“The research is clear that summer learning loss disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable low-income students, which is why it is so important that we continue to support our city’s summer jobs programs and pilot new initiatives such as the ones we are announcing today,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said.

The city launched two new summer employment programs, Summer Quest and Summer Scholars, to go along with the already established Summer Youth Employment Program, Ladders for Leaders, the Young Adult Internship Program, the Young Adult Literacy Program and the Young Men’s Initiative Work Progress Program


DEP fights car idling near city schools

| sarahyu@queenscourier.com

Stop Idling

Soon, some Queens kids will be able to breathe a little easier.

In honor of Asthma Awareness Month, a two-week long campaign from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) called “Stop Idling” will be enforced through June 6.

“Stop Idling” will target areas around P.S. 206 in Rego Park; P.S. 220 in Forest Hills; P.S. 98 and 221 in Douglaston; P.S. 811 and 94 in Little Neck; P.S. 41 and 130 in Bayside; P.S. 43 and 104 in Far Rockaway; P.S. 162 in Flushing and P.S. 48 in Jamaica.

According to the DEP, this campaign is an add-on to a 2009 initiative called “Turn It Off,” which reinforced and clarified the legal, financial, environmental and health impacts of vehicle idling.

DEP’s Director of Communications Chris Gilbride said that agency inspectors are going to be monitoring the vehicles in those areas and said that if people are idling for more than a minute near schools or for more than three minutes in other locations, they will be fined $350 for the violation.

DEP officials used public health data that was available for every region of the city from a survey that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducted recently.

The DEP looked at the statistics and focused on the areas where there were high rates of people with asthma and then narrowed in on the schools. They also worked with the Department of Transportation to install one-minute idling signs for drivers so they are aware.

Then, DEP officials did surveillance and observed if there was idling taking place at each location. In order to raise awareness of this campaign and this issue, DEP officials stood outside of public schools and handed out flyers to parents, teachers and staff while 1,400 flyers were sent to parent coordinators for them to send out.

Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said that the “Stop Idling” campaign is going to help produce and keep the environment eco-friendly, which will allow for a healthier lifestyle for not just kids and their parents, but for everyone else who has asthma.

“Reducing traffic and emissions from vehicles and other sources will benefit not only children with asthma, but all New Yorkers with chronic heart and lung conditions,” he said.


DOE Chancellor addresses education concerns

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

The auditorium at MS 137 filled with parents, teachers and administrators, clamoring to ask Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Dennis Walcott questions about the future of their children’s education on Tuesday, May 15.

Inquiries for the evening included childhood obesity, progress reports and Turnaround. One of the most heated topics discussed at the event was special education and the newly implemented reform, mixing special-needs students into classes with general-education students. Several parents feared this would steal seats away from general education students, struggling to find room in already overcrowded schools. Walcott believes it is a program that will help all children “flourish.”

Walcott also informed the public that he hopes to open 15 new middle schools in the next 19 months.

UFT sues to prevent school closings

| mchan@queenscourier.com

1 (16)w

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA) are hoping to “turnaround” the city’s decision to close 24 schools in court.

The organizations filed suit today in State Supreme Court, seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction until issues surrounding the Department of Education’s (DOE) Turnaround plan can be resolved through arbitration, UFT officials said.

Under Turnaround, 24 city schools — including seven in Queens — will close at the end of the semester and reopen under a new name in the fall. While non-graduating students at each school will be guaranteed a seat, teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, according to the DOE. If 50 percent of the former teachers reapply, at least that amount will have to be rehired.

“These ‘sham closings’ are an attempt by the DOE to evade its duty to help these struggling schools succeed,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest Logan in a joint statement.

The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) — made up of five representatives chosen by the borough presidents and seven others who are selected by Mayor Michael Bloomberg — voted 8-4 to close the schools on April 26.

The mayor’s appointees and the representative from Staten Island — which had no schools on the list — voted for the Turnaround plan, while the other four voted against the measure, according to published reports.

“We are asking the court to ensure that no final decisions are made on the staffing of these schools, pending an independent review by an arbitrator on the issue of whether the DOE is trying to get around its labor agreements,” the statement said.

According to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, preparations have already been made to open the new schools in September, including training leadership teams and holding meetings with the UFT to begin the process of staffing the new schools. He said the lawsuit “could have damaging consequences for that process, jeopardizing the creation of exciting new schools with new programs, teachers and leadership structures.”

“The UFT and CSA have shown that they would rather leave our students’ futures to the courts than do the difficult work of turning around failing schools and giving students the education they deserve,” Walcott said in a statement. “Our strategy of replacing failing schools has led to major gains in achievement and graduation rates, and we pledge to extend that progress no matter what special interest groups try to obstruct it.”

The seven closing Queens schools are August Martin, Bryant, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown and Richmond Hill High School. They were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the UFT on an evaluation system.

By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city will be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

According to UFT and CSA officials, unless the DOE agrees that it has improperly identified the 24 schools, the issue will go before an independent arbitrator.


Grover Cleveland saved from closure

| brennison@queenscourier.com


Hours before the Panel for Educational Policy meeting to decide the fate of 26 city schools, the Department of Education removed Grover Cleveland High School from the list ensuring its survival.

Under the turnaround model the Ridgewood school would have closed and reopened under a new name with up to half the teachers being replaced. Bushwick Community High School was also removed from the list.

“Over the past several weeks, during public hearings and visits from my senior leadership, we looked closely at schools whose performance and quality of instruction have shown positive signs in the last two years. We have come to believe that two of those schools – Grover Cleveland High School and Bushwick Community High School – have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

The hearing on Monday, April 2 and the public comments given that night also played a role into the DOE’s decision to keep the school open.

“This news is a testament to the hard work of the school community, the students, parents and teachers and Principal [Denise] Vittor at Grover Cleveland,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley. “I was proud to stand with the community protesting the turnaround model, and I am relieved the DOE has listened to common sense and will keep the school open. We must continue to fight for the remaining schools that are still slated for closure.”

Cleveland has shown improvement in recent years raising its graduation rate and being rated proficient on the quality review.

Twenty four other schools — seven in Queens — will have their fate determined tonight at the PEP meeting in Brooklyn.


Is Ridgewood set to get a new school?

| jlane@queenscourier.com


Kids in a crowded Queens neighborhood will have more room to expand their minds when a new school opens in Ridgewood — though they will have to wait three years.
More than 100 parents attended a public hearing on Tuesday, April 10 held by Community Board 5’s education committee at P.S. 305 on Seneca Avenue, across the street from the proposed site for the new school.

The hearing was held to discuss the building of a new 444-seat, state-of-the-art school and the School Construction Authority (SCA) was on hand to answer questions about the proposed structure.

The site – the St. Aloysius school building which closed last year, has not yet been purchased – but the SCA — which handles the planning, designing and construction of new schools — is in talks with the church to buy the property.

After purchase, an environmental analysis must be done before the school is demolished and a new building constructed. The goal — which the SCA labeled “aggressive” — is to have the school opened by September, 2015.

Parents of children at P.S. 305 are hoping that the new school would be an extension of the school which currently only goes up to the third grade. Twice the school has asked to be expanded to fifth grade, but has been denied. Currently, children graduate to P.S. 81 for fourth and fifth grades before going to a third school for sixth through eighth grades.

The Department of Education (DOE) said it will not have any details on what grades the school will house until the purchase is finalized.
A representative from Councilmember Diana Reyna’s office was on hand and applauded the DOE for addressing the issue of overcrowding in Ridgewood.
“The new primary elementary school at the former St. Aloysius site shows that the SCA and DOE have been listening to the community and have heard the need for the creation of more elementary school spots,” said the spokesperson.

The building will be built to accommodate children from any grades, kindergarten through 8th grade, said Pat Grayson, chair of CB5’s education committee.
At CB5’s monthly meeting the next day, board members approved the construction of the school building.